Routines for Your 1-Year-Old

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Now Is the Right Time!

As a parent or someone in a parenting role, you play an essential role in your 1-year-old child’s success. There are intentional ways to grow a healthy parent-child relationship, and daily routines provide a perfect opportunity.

Routines not only help your family move through the day smoothly and on time, they can have a significant impact on your child’s success. One-year-olds rely heavily on your guidance and reassurance as they start to explore their world. Routines can provide structure and repetition that makes their world easier to understand. Routines can be especially helpful to support transitions from one activity or place to another. Transitions can be some of the most difficult times for one-year-olds to manage their behavior, and routines can make these times less challenging.1

The steps below include specific and practical strategies to help you develop routines and use them to build a relationship with your child that includes reliable and unconditional support and love, especially when they need you the most.

Why Routines?

Establishing regular routines can help your family get through the day cooperatively while building vital skills in your child. Routines can help to develop your child’s sense of security and their confidence.2 Routines can help them feel safe because they know what to expect and are more able to learn from the rich experiences you have together every day. When there are changes to the routine – expected and unexpected – this will also help your child learn to be flexible and practice adjusting to new situations.

Today, in the short term, routines can create structure to ease stress and increase cooperation and motivation as you go about your daily tasks;

  • feelings that your child can make sense of their world;
  • a sense of mastery when your child repeats routines and knows what to expect; and
  • added daily peace of mind!

Tomorrow, in the long term, your child

  • develops a sense of safety, security, and confidence;
  • builds skills to handle unexpected challenges in life;
  • builds skills in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making; and
  • deepens family trust and intimacy.

Five Steps for Establishing Routines Download a summary of the 5 steps

This five-step process helps you and your child in developing routines together. It also builds important critical life skills in your child. The same process can be used to address other parenting issues as well (learn more about the process).


These steps are best done when you and your child are not tired or in a rush.


Intentional communication and actively building a healthy parent relationship will support these steps.

Step 1. Get Your Child Thinking by Getting Their Input

One-year-olds are starting to verbalize their needs by babbling, crying, and using single words. Despite your child’s emerging ability to use words, continue to pay close attention to their facial expressions, movements, and sounds in order to work on understanding what they are trying to communicate. Your efforts to learn from your child build trust and create empathetic interactions that let them know that you are interested in what they are thinking. This will make a big difference as you develop routines together. In becoming sensitive to the nuances of your child’s verbal and nonverbal expressions, you

  • are responding to their needs;
  • are growing their trust in you, sense of safety, and sense of healthy relationships;
  • are growing motivation for you and your child to work together;
  • are deepening your ability to communicate with one another;
  • are growing their ability to advocate for themselves if they need to return to a routine or get more support to manage changes throughout the day; and
  • are modeling empathy and problem-solving skills.


  • Consider your routines throughout the day – morning, mid-day, and bedtime. Creating routines around wakeup time, mealtime, naptime, and bedtime can make these times predictable, comforting, and fun for your child.
    • When you greet your child first thing in the morning, you could use a certain smile or phrase like “Good Morning, my little sunshine.”
    • You could incorporate singing songs when changing their diaper or right before putting them in the crib for an afternoon nap.
  • Consider how your child reacts when they are engaging in routines and when their routines change.
    • Do they get upset, angry, or frustrated? How do they show you? Children at this age may cry, yell, hit, bite, or throw things. They can still be soothed by cuddling and rocking and are learning to self-soothe when upset.
    • Consider how your child reacts when they are happy or excited. How do they show you? Children at this age clap their hands, imitate others, smile, squeal, and laugh when they are happy or excited.
    • Consider how your child reacts when they are scared. How do they show you? Children at this age are more aware of their surroundings, which can make them afraid of new things or sounds. They may cry, withdraw, or hide.
  • Each time your child expresses any big emotion, be sure and name the feeling: “You seem angry” or “You seem happy.” This builds their emotional vocabulary adding to their self-awareness and ability to manage their feelings. As you react to your child in ways that soothe, you will find they will feel a greater sense of your understanding and responsiveness so that your interactions become more two-way instead of one-way.
  • When reading books, point out routines that seem comforting and moments when those routines changed. Talk about what you notice. “The bear in this story usually eats bananas for breakfast, but this morning he had an apple instead. I noticed the bear was a little afraid of trying something different for breakfast, but he seemed to really like the apple once he tried it.”

Your child will give you lots of cues about whether the routines you develop feel too complicated or too simple and if they are being followed consistently enough for your child to feel a sense of security. Every child is different, and your own child may change from day-to-day in how willing they are to follow a routine or how much help they need to manage planned and unplanned changes in routines.

Step 2. Teach New Skills by Interactive Modeling

As a parent or someone in a parenting role, there is a lot to learn about understanding your child’s rhythms, temperaments, and needs. Because of all this learning, you will make mistakes and even poor choices. How you handle those moments can determine how you help build your child’s ability to stick with routines and to handle change. Offering yourself the grace and permission to not be perfect can ease your anxiety in responding to your child’s needs. Learning about developmental milestones can help you better understand what your child is going through.3

  • 12-18-month-olds will respond to their name and may use 5 to 10 words. They are starting to combine words with gestures and starting to follow simple directions and remember recent events and actions. They may feel uneasy when separated from their loved ones.
  • 18-24-month-olds can understand 10 times more than they can speak, are starting to respond to questions, can point to familiar objects and people in pictures, and are starting to follow two-step directions. They are also starting to want to try things on their own.

Teaching is different than just telling. Teaching builds basic skills, grows problem-solving abilities, and sets your child up for success. Teaching also involves modeling and practicing the positive behaviors you want to see, promoting skills, and preventing problems.


  • Narrate your daily routines. As you prepare breakfast at home or go shopping together at the store, talk about what you are doing each step of the way. Involve your child by asking questions. For example, “I am getting out your favorite cereal bowl. I think we’ll have some cereal this morning. Does that sound yummy to you?”
  • Narrate your feelings. As you are going through your bedtime routine, talk about what you are doing each step of the way. Involve your child by asking questions. For example, you might say, “I just yawned and am feeling sleepy. Do you think I should take a nap?”
  • Read and pretend play together. Use reading time and select a book of faces to help your child learn to identify the different emotions of other children. Point out what you notice and how you can tell each child is feeling each emotion. Do the children’s emotions change based on experiences they are having in the book?
  • Grow confidence. In addition to having consistent daily routines with your child, point out when they are following the routine. “I noticed that you helped me to pick up the toys before dinner. That is what we always do before dinnertime.”
  • If your child seems worried about a change and is using verbal or non-verbal language, you may respond with:
    • “This is something different, but I know we can do it. I will be right beside you.”
    • “I would love to hold your hand when we try this new activity.”

Step 3. Practice to Grow Skills, Routines, and Develop Habits

Your daily routines are opportunities for your child to practice new vital skills if you seize those chances. With practice, your child will improve over time as you give them the chance with support. Practice grows vital new brain connections that strengthen (and eventually form habits) each time your child works hard toward a goal or demonstrates belief in themselves.

Practice also provides important opportunities to grow self-efficacy – a child’s sense that they can do a task successfully. This leads to confidence. It helps them understand that mistakes and failures are part of learning.

When experiencing daily routines, it is important to practice noticing how comfortable it feels to know what to expect and follow the routine. It is also important to plan ahead for expected changes in the routine and to talk about how hard it can be when unexpected changes occur. Help your child develop strategies for handling change and remind them that their trusted adults are always there to help.


  • Learn about your child’s development. Each new age presents different challenges. Being informed about your child’s developmental milestones promotes your empathy and patience.
  • Engage in routines together like picking up toys before snacktime or hanging up your coats when you come inside. Allow your child to engage with you in routines.
  • Consider how you can model examples of routines so they can begin to learn what routines are. “I like to put my coat on a hanger in the closet. Let’s put your coat right beside mine?”

Step 4. Support Your Child’s Development and Success

At this point, you are developing routines and starting to talk about them with your child. Both you and your child are practicing so they can learn how to stick to the plan of their usual routine and be flexible enough to manage changes. Parents and those in a parenting role naturally offer support as they see their child fumble with a situation in which they need help. This is no different.


  • Continue to label what you are doing with statements like, “We are putting the block into the box. This is part of our clean up routine.”
  • Don’t move on quickly if your child shows interest in trying something new. Children often need more time to stick with a challenge or pursue a goal. Be sure to wait long enough for your child to show you they are competent. Your waiting could make all the difference in whether they are able to gain skills over time.
  • Recognize effort by using “I notice…” statements like: “I noticed how you were able to take your socks off before your bath.”
  • Actively reflect on how your child is feeling when they have completed a step in your routine or when they are facing a change. You can offer reflections like: “I see you are helping me to pick up our toys as part of our clean up routine.” Naming their success will help to build confidence.

Step 5. Recognize and Celebrate

No matter how old your child is, your praise and encouragement are their sweetest reward.

If your child is working to grow their skills – even in small ways – it will be worth your while to recognize it. Your recognition can go a long way to promoting positive behaviors and expanding your child’s self-esteem and confidence. Your recognition also promotes safe, secure, and nurturing relationships — a foundation for strong communication and a healthy relationship with you as they grow.

You can recognize your child’s efforts with praise, high fives, and hugs. Praise is most effective when you name the specific behavior you want to see more of. For example, “You helped me to pick up your toys before dinnertime — love seeing that!

Avoid bribes. A bribe is a promise for a behavior, while praise is special attention after the behavior. While bribes may work in the short term, praise grows lasting motivation for good behavior and effort. For example, instead of saying, “If you are good in the store, you get to pick out a toy at the checkout” (which is a bribe), try recognizing the behavior after. “You were a big helper in the store today. I really appreciate that!”


  • Smile at your child.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Use caring facial expressions.
  • Be physically gentle and caring with your child.
  • Recognize and call out when it is going well. “I noticed that you like to read books before bedtime. I like that too.”
  • Build celebrations into your everyday routine. Promote joy and happiness by laughing, singing, dancing, hugging, and snuggling to appreciate one another.


Engaging in these five steps is an investment that builds your skills as an effective parent to use on many other issues and builds important skills that will last a lifetime for your child. Throughout this tool, there are opportunities for children to become more self-aware, to deepen their social awareness, and to work on their relationship skills.


[1] Zero to Three. (February, 2010). Creating routines for love and learning. Retrieved on March 25, 2020 at
[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Essentials for parenting toddlers and preschoolers: Building structure. Retrieved on April 20, 2020 at
[3] (2019). Milestones and Abilities. Retrieved from
Recommended Citation: Center for Health and Safety Culture. (2020). Routines. Age 1. Retrieved from
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